Apple AirPort Express
Cheap to get started
Limited to iTunes
Apple’s tiny AirPort Express extends the range of your Wi-Fi network and lets you run Ethernet to hard-to-reach corners, but you can also plug powered speakers into the 3.5mm auxiliary jack to create a wireless speaker that shows up in iTunes on your computer or iGadget.
You can stream music to one AirPlay speaker from an iGadget or stream the same song to multiple speakers from iTunes on a computer (or from a first-generation Apple TV with its built-in hard drive). You can control the music coming from iTunes or Apple TV using an iGadget, but you can’t control them using iTunes on another computer.
Unlike Sonos, iTunes can’t simultaneously stream different music to different rooms – you need to use a separate copy of iTunes (iGadget or computer) to provide each music stream. The AirPort Express’ support for 802.11n at 5GHz helps combat interference issues and the Apple gear will happily play music in sync across several rooms via 2.4 or 5GHz. The frustration here is that you’re locked into Apple’s ecosystem.
You can’t treat the AirPlay speakers as DLNA speakers. From a computer you can only stream from iTunes, not from streaming services like Rdio and Spotify. Listening to internet radio also relies on finding a stream that plays in iTunes, while streaming audio from an iGadget is a workaround, it can only connect to a single speaker. If you want to get the most from AirPlay, look to Rogue Amoeba’s Airfoil which lets you stream audio from any Mac/Windows application as well as stream music to computers and handheld devices.
Using your own speakers can make this a cost-effective solution, although it’s best to use matching speakers in adjacent rooms so there’s a smooth sound transition as you move between rooms. If you’re looking to spend several hundred dollars per room on speakers, weigh this up against the more flexible Sonos system.